Drawn to a Different Kind of Runway
A&P mechanics are trained in a variety of disciplines. I can't think of any other training that provides the diverse knowledge A&Ps have — sheet metal repair, welding, hydraulics, piston and turbine engine, non-destructive testing and others. The list goes on and on,
That vast training and knowledge is why some A&P students never end up working on aircraft. They are recruited by other industries such as the railroad and amusement park industries.
So, it was refreshing to hear a story of a young lady who left a career in fashion for one in aircraft maintenance. It came to my inbox this morning courtesy of Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA), and I just had to share. This is the story of Chrishanna Frayser:
Chrishanna Frayser’s career began in the fashion industry, but it didn’t take long before she found herself drawn to a different kind of runway.
“I was on the management track in retail women’s clothing, and before that I worked at a modeling and talent agency,” says Frayser. “But I basically fell into a fashion career due to family contacts, and I knew it wasn’t my passion. One day I got fed up with not being happy with my work, so I decided to change my career and do something that interested me.”
Frayser’s lifelong love of airplanes — and her passion for learning how to take things apart and put them back together again — inspired her to enter the aviation maintenance field despite having no prior mechanical training.
“My dad made sure my siblings and I knew how to change our oil and tires, but beyond that I was kind of hopeless,” Fryasyer recalls. “I felt like I was really far behind my classmates who were more mechanically educated, but that just encouraged me to work harder and take every opportunity to learn more so I could catch up faster.”
It turned out to be a winning strategy: in 2020, Frayser graduated at the top of her class from PIA’s Hagerstown Campus. Today, she is the only female minority FAA–licensed aircraft technician at Plane Care, a repair facility located at Hagerstown Regional Airport. Her responsibilities include aircraft maintenance and inspections, general repairs, and the removal and replacement of parts and accessories.
One of Frayser’s most memorable jobs was replacing a fuel bladder on a rare HT–295 Helio Courier. “Due to the aircraft’s age and unique design (only 4 of that particular design are still operating in the continental USA), it was hard to find the proper replacement part,” says Frayser. “The first one we were sent was so far off from the required specs that it tore when I tried to install it. Thankfully, we were able to send in the original bladder so they could find a new one that matched it exactly. But to install it, I still had to sit on a ladder 7 feet in the air and work through a hole that only allowed my arms or my head through, but never both at the same time. Eventually, I got so good at taking the bladder in and out that the final installation only took me about 75 minutes.”
Working at a regional airport also has its perks, like getting to know the private plane owners who rely on technicians like Frasyer to keep their aircraft running safely. “My favorite job so far was changing a brake cable on a Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer, which also happens to be my favorite plane. It was a simple job, but the owner is very particular about who is allowed to work on his plane, which is understandable since he maintains it beautifully. I must have done a good job, because he allowed me to go on a ride and even let me fly it a bit. That experience alone was worth getting my A&P license.”
For anyone considering a career in aviation maintenance, Frayser encourages them to trust in their own potential. “If you want the satisfaction of being able to throw yourself into your work and see a job through from end-to-end, this is definitely something you can learn to do. It’s hard work, but sticking with it is so rewarding. Seeing a plane you worked on take off safely down the runway is the best feeling in the world.”